Ideas for the Future: Regaining the Mystery, Restoring Mystagogy
Easter Vigil had been a very special celebration for the young man. He reflected on his experiences as he drove to his parish Church the following Wednesday night for Mass and his first mystagogy session. He had never been baptized. His parents were not religious, so they had never thought of baptizing their children. As he reached young adulthood, however, he realized something was missing in his life. When his Catholic friends invited him to Mass one Sunday, he knew what that something was…God. After talking to the parish priest and praying, the young man knew he was called to become Catholic. He enrolled in the RCIA class at his friends’ Church and spent the next several months studying the Catholic faith, especially the Bible and the Catechism. Then finally on Easter Vigil, the young man was baptized and confirmed, and he received Jesus for the first time in Holy Communion. He knew he would never be able to put into words the intimacy with his Lord and Savior that he felt that night. Now this evening, he would begin the mystagogy portion of the RCIA program. He was not quite sure what to expect, but he knew what the priest told him, and he was excited. The priest had explained to the catechumens that on the first Wednesday after Easter, he would help them delve been more deeply into the mysteries of their faith. He had told them that he was going to show them the intricate and beautiful connections between the Scriptures they had been studying and the liturgy in which they participated fully for the first time at Easter Vigil. He had asked them to read Luke 24:13-35, the story of the disciples and Jesus on the road to Emmaus, before the class. The young man had done so, and he could not quite see how everything fit together, but he was eager to learn. He was eager to travel ever-deeper into the riches of the faith he had found. He was eager to meet God there. He was eager to be just like those disciples on the road to Emmaus.
The final section of this study will offer a few ideas to help pastors, catechists, and other parish leaders restore mystagogy in their parishes and thereby help new Christians, and indeed all Catholics, grasp the crucial integration between liturgy, Scripture, and mystery. We shall see how the modern Church provides rich teachings on these key elements of the Catholic faith. Then, we shall introduce some specific resources that will guide teachers of mystagogy in their efforts to restore this important teaching in their parishes, and finally, we shall emphasize that, to be authentic, all study of liturgy and Scripture, all reflection on mystery, and all teaching of mystagogy must be focused on the Blessed Trinity.
The first step in restoring mystagogy to our modern Church involves education and awareness. Catholics who are in charge of teaching others the mysteries of the faith, especially liturgy and Scripture, must thoroughly understand the Church’s official teaching on these topics. Indeed, at the Second Vatican Council, the bishops, guided by the Holy Spirit, produced remarkable documents that both summarize and develop the Church’s teachings on liturgy, Scripture, and mystery. Before even beginning to devise a plan of mystagogical teaching, pastors and catechists must meticulously study and totally comprehend at least three of the Council’s documents: Dei Verbum, Sancrosanctum Concilium, and Lumen Gentium. The first of these, Dei Verbum, wonderfully presents the Church’s teaching on Divine Revelation, including Sacred Scripture. It discusses the complex transmission of Revelation, asserts the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, advocates a renewal of typology, and calls for the study of both the literal and spiritual senses of Scripture in the context of the unity of the canon, the Sacred Tradition, and the analogy of the faith. (91) This document is indispensable for gaining a proper understanding of God’s Word, written and lived. In conjunction, those to propose to teach mystagogy must have a good grasp of the Church’s teaching on liturgy. This can be found in the Council’s document, Sancrosanctum Concilium, which presents the liturgy as the summit and fount of the Church’s life and as the work of and the privileged meeting place with the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit. The document lays out a plan for reforming liturgy that is designed to help the faithful actively participate in the great mysteries they celebrate. It also emphasizes the depths of mystery present in the sacramental liturgy, especially in the Eucharist. (92) Finally, those seeking to teach mystagogy ought to look closely at the Council’s document on the Church, Lumen Gentium. This rich document expounds the mysteries of the Church as the Bride and Mystical Body of Christ, as the Kingdom of God, as a visible institution and invisible reality, and as a hierarchical structure and the People of God. (93) All three of these documents present the Church’s official position on liturgy, Scripture, and mystery, individually and in unity, so they are all necessary sources for teaching mystagogy. Finally, those seeking to better understand the riches of the Catholic faith must turn to the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, drawing from the documents we have just mentioned as well as numerous others from the Second Vatican Council, past councils, saints, and theologians, offers in-depth examinations of liturgy, Scripture, and mystery; calls specifically for a renewal of mystagogy (see paragraph 1075); and even proposes models for mystagogy in its discussion of the sacraments (see, for instance, paragraphs 1217-1228, which use typology to list and explain Old and New Testament prefigurations of Baptism). (94) For a true restoration and renewal of mystagogy in our parishes, then, those in charge of mystagogical instruction must themselves be educated; they must encounter the Church’s official teaching about liturgy, Scripture, and mystery at its source in the documents the Church provides for our edification.
Along with learning the substance of mystagogical teaching through Church documents, instructors of mystagogy ought to take advantage of the numerous resources available to them as they seek, from the pulpit or the classroom, to help Catholics new and old discover the mysteries of their faith. Let us look briefly at a few of these. In an article in Pro Ecclesia, Benedictine Jeremy Driscoll outlines a plan for mystagogical preaching designed to help pastors lead their congregations into a deeper understanding of the relationship between the Scriptures and the liturgy and of the mysteries of the Eucharist. He advocates the use of biblical typology, after the model of the Fathers, to help Catholics discover the connections, indeed the integration, between the Scriptures they hear, the Eucharist in which they participate, and the mysteries they experience. Driscoll lays out two detailed approaches to mystagogy that he encourages pastors to employ freely in their preaching at each and every Mass. The first encourages preachers to discover and expose the connections between Scripture and the Eucharist present in each Gospel passage read at Mass, and the second promotes in-depth theological descriptions of the liturgical rites that ground them firmly in Scripture while elaborating on their mystery. (95) Teachers of mystagogy will also benefit from books like Understanding the Mystery of the Mass by Father Matthew Buettner and The Bible and the Liturgy by Jean Daniélou. The former features a collection of actual mystagogical instructions given by Father Buettner to his congregation over several months. Father Buettner explains each part of the Mass in detail, offering both Scriptural and sacramental typology to help his parishioners sink deeply into the mysteries of their faith. (96) The Bible and the Liturgy provides a more exhaustive study of the Biblical typology of the liturgy that will help teachers of mystagogy greatly increase their own knowledge of the unity of Scripture, liturgy, and mystery in order to pass it on to their students more effectively. (97) Students and teachers alike ought to carefully peruse Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians by Scott Hahn and Mike Aquilina. This book offers a series of fifty excerpts from the mystagogical teachings of the Church Fathers, and as the title suggests, they are designed to help Christians of all levels learn and live the mysteries of their faith. Each meditation shows how Scripture, liturgy, and mystery unite to lead us into the depths of Christian living, and each is followed by a prayer and memorization suggestions as well as an “Apply it to Your Life” section that offers ideas on how to live out the meditation just presented. (98) This book could easily be used as a “textbook” for the mystagogy portion of the RCIA program or as a guide for any parish study group eager to discover the mysteries of the Catholic faith. (99) Each book mentioned here offers an extensive bibliography intended to draw readers into deeper study. Teachers of mystagogy must also be aware of online resources that will help them prepare to introduce their students to the riches of Scripture, liturgy, and mystery in the Catholic faith, particularly www.salvationhistory.com (which provides links to a multitude of helpful online resources), www.newadvent.org (which features a Catholic encyclopedia, works of the Church Fathers, a full-text edition of the Summa Theologica, and much more), www.ewtn.com (which offers numerous documents, reflections, audio resources, and more), and www.vatican.va (which, as the official Vatican website, presents a full range of Church documents).
As teachers of mystagogy prepare their lessons, as they introduce their students to the method of typology, as they show them the intricate relationships between Scripture and liturgy, as they assist them in entering into the mysteries of their faith, as they practice mystagogy as it was practiced on the road to Emmaus and in the early Church, they must always remember that their primary focus must be on God. The ultimate goal of mystagogy is deeper intimacy between the Christian and the Blessed Trinity. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, must be at the center of all mystagogical teaching. God is at the center of the Scripture (for the Scriptures are inspired and authored by Him and reveal Him to us). God is at the center of the liturgy (for here we welcome Him into our very bodies in the Eucharist). God is at the center of the mysteries of our faith; in fact, He is the mystery! Therefore, God must be at the center of all mystagogy. He is, after all, the Creator of mystagogy. He is the One Who walked along that dusty road to Emmaus two centuries ago, opening the Scriptures to His disciplines, making their hearts burn within them, and revealing Himself in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist, the mystery of His real presence among us then and now.
We have come a long way in our study of mystagogy. We have seen how, if properly taught, it helps Catholics, new and old alike, see the integration between Scripture and liturgy. We have seen how it leads us more deeply into the mysteries of our faith. We have traced its rise and fall in history, from the days of the early Church when mystagogy was at its zenith through the centuries as mystagogy declined and fell into disuse to today when mystagogy seems to be at its nadir but is actually beginning to experience renewal right now. We have provide a few ideas that teachers of mystagogy may pursue as they restore this important teaching on the parish level. Overall, we have seen that to truly accompany Jesus on the road to Emmaus is to study mystagogy, to listen to Him as He opens the Scriptures for us, to meet Him in the breaking of the bread, to embrace Him in mystery, to love Him in truth.
91. Cf. Vatican II Council, “Dei Verbum.”
92. Cf. Vatican II Council, “Sancrosanctum Concilium,” in The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, N.Y.: Costello Publishing Company; Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1998).
93. Cf. Vatican II Council, “Lumen Gentium,” in The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, N.Y.: Costello Publishing Company; Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1998).
94. Cf. Cathecism.
95. Jeremy Driscoll, “Preaching in the Context of the Eucharist: A Patristic Perspective,” Pro Ecclesia 11 (2002), 24-40.
96. Matthew Buettner, Understanding the Mystery of the Mass (Goletta, Calif.: Queenship Publishing Company, 2006).
97. Cf. Daniélou.
98. Cf. Hahn and Aquilina.
99. We have not spoken much about the practicalities of a program of mystagogy, for each parish must determine the specifics based on its individual needs. However, the period of mystagogy ought to extend at least from Easter until Pentecost with neophytes meeting at least weekly. Mystagogy, as we are seeing, is not necessarily limited to new Christians. All Christians need mystagogy throughout their lives to continue growing in their faith. This mystagogy might take the form of preaching, as Father Driscoll suggests, study groups, retreats, or individual study.